Uncle Grandpa: Christmas Special

Title

Debuted in 2014

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: When Santa breaks his leg, Uncle Grandpa steps in to deliver the toys. He causes lots of trouble and then gets captured by Sally Smith, a naughty kid. His guardian lobster shows him what life would have been like without him and he manages to save Christmas and have a nice holiday with his friends.

Fun Fact: Cartoon Network developed a video game called ‘Sneakin’ Santa’ to promote this holiday episode of the show.

My thoughts: Well, there are no two ways about it. This show is nutso. In addition to the main character, there is also a talking fanny pack, a slice of pizza named Pizza Steve, a grumpy dinosaur and a photographic cutout of a tiger who can fly. Creator Peter Browngardt was influenced by Gary Larson, Robert Crumb, Tex Avery and Don Martin and it’s not too hard to see their fingerprints here, although the show is extremely original. Normally, each show features two 12 minute segments, but this show uses both segments to tell its story and appears to be the first double episode in the series. We find out early in the show that Uncle Grandpa and Santa are brothers and that Uncle Grandpa is still angry at Santa for ruining his talent show performance when they were young.  There are some good underlying messages about friendship and family hidden amongst the bizarre moments here and if you enjoy your specials a little on the wacky side, this one should be right up your alley.

Santa and elves

Elves make really good footrests.

Other holiday mascots

Sally Smith keeps a prison for holidays.  Not pictured: The Veterans Day Velociraptor.  (No, that wasn’t a joke.)

Skeleton

Does Mr. Gus wind up as a skeleton in a museum without Uncle Grandpa?

Rooftop

Photorealistic Flying Tiger is absolutely my favorite character in anything.

Individual Superlative: Born to Be Crazy – Contributors to this series include the folks who gave us both Chowder and Ren & Stimpy so there’s no way this show wasn’t going to be insane.

Want to Watch it? Uncle Grandpa: Christmas Special is available on Hulu and will likely show up in holiday programming.

 

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Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire

Title

Debuted in 1999

29 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Robbie shows up to train for Santa’s sleigh team as a navigator, but Blitzen tries to prevent his success because he hated Robbie’s father. Blitzen convinces Robbie that he’s unfit so he leaves and tries his hand at toy making with the elves, who suggest he hire a trainer. He just barely loses the Steeplechase at the Reindeer Games, but then it’s discovered that Blitzen was using performance enhancing drugs, so Santa chooses Robbie.

Fun Fact: It’s played for comedy that Blitzen never lets anyone say the name of Robbie’s famous red-nosed father, but it’s actually because of copyright law.

My thoughts: There have been three Robbie the Reindeer specials, all produced for Comic Relief and originally aired on BBC One. Although not an official Aardman Animations production, it did share some of the animators and has the same style and look of the other Aardman films. The version I watched was the original BBC version, with the original voices, but there is an American-ized version out there as well, with American actors in the cast. As a big fan of Ardal O’Hanlon, who voices Robbie, I recommend this version. There are lots of funny moments and a couple of cute subplots, including Robbie’s budding romance with Donner and his friendship with Old Jingle, who comes out of retirement to train him. I thought this one was a lot of fun and now I’m looking forward to watching the story continue in the other two films.

Working out

Even reindeer have to stay fit.

Robbie and Donner

Donner has heard all she cares to hear about how gorgeous Vixen is.

Elf

Not exactly the way I always pictured Santa’s elves.

Whale

Robbie’s first attempt at toy making.  I always thought whales could use an arm or two. Or three.

Individual Superlative: Beards Aplenty – Santa is not the only one in his family to have a full beard. So does Mrs. Santa and their infant child. Honestly, it made me laugh every time they showed it.

Want to Watch it? Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire is available on DVD and YouTube.

Suzy Snowflake

TitleDebuted in 1953

2 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Suzy Snowflake comes to town with a winter snowfall. She helps you to make snowmen and take sleigh rides. There really isn’t a third sentence, so I’ll just use this space to say, “Yay, Suzy!”

Fun Fact: The stop motion animation in this short was done by Wah Chang, who also sculpted the maquette of Pinocchio for Walt Disney and the tricorder and communicator props used on Star Trek.

My thoughts: This short is essentially a music video for a song performed by the Norman Luboff Choir with Norma Zimmer voicing Suzy. (My grandfather was an avid Lawrence Welk fan, so I remember Norma Zimmer as the ‘Champagne Lady’ from his show.) Rosemary Clooney’s popular version of the song was released as a 78 RPM single. We had her version of it on a Christmas record in my house growing up and I would skip over it when playing the record (which wasn’t as easy as pushing a button on your iPod) because I really hated the song. I like this version a little better, but that may be attributed to the visuals, which are charming in their simplicity. This stop motion animated version is a holiday staple in Chicago, where it was an annual tradition on the Garfield Goose and Friends and Bozo’s Circus shows on WGN.  I hadn’t seen this one before and thought it was cute, but not anything really special to those of us who didn’t grow up with it.

Businessman

Mr. Fancy Top Hat Man is about to get buried in snow.

Silhouette

I love the effect of the silhouette and the lighting here.

Window

That’s a mighty fluffy dress.

Snowman

Sorry, Snowman, Suzy just wants to be friends.

Individual Superlative: Gimme Some Snow! – Growing up in the south, we rarely got snow so it’s always been a welcome thing, especially during the holidays. This short makes me really want a big snow this year.

Want to Watch it? Suzy Snowflake is available on YouTube and on a remastered DVD celebrating the animated classics of WGN’s holiday programming.

Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever

titleDebuted in 2002

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Zim poses as Santa in order to get money and then, as he learns more about Santa, to lure humans to their doom. But the Santa suit he creates begins to believe he’s actually Santa and fills Zim with warm emotions and jolly feelings toward children. Dib and Gaz show up in time to stop him by jettisoning the mutated spirit of Santa into space.

Fun Fact: This was the last episode to be completed before the series was cancelled, but it was actually the first Season 2 episode to air in the US.

My thoughts: Invader Zim was a short-lived series on Nickelodeon created by comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez (best known for his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic series). The basic plot (an alien sent to Earth to infiltrate and plot world domination) is simple, but offers a lot to work with and the show had a fair-sized cult following. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never seen any of the show before, but still enjoyable even without the full knowledge of the characters. The show is bookended by a mechanical snowman narrator, telling a group of children the story we’re watching as something that happened in the long ago past. It’s definitely on the darker side, in plot elements and character design, but there are plenty of funny moments and quite a lot of unpredictability, which is always welcome in the world of overdone holiday plots. Definitely worth watching, especially if you enjoy things a little on the weird side.

snowman-narrator

The robot snowman should do something about that unibrow.

jolly-jail

The ‘Jolly Jail’ turns incarceration into minty holiday fun!

soft-hearted-santa

Santa’s going all emotional on us.

easter-platypus

Next plan: The Easter Platypus!

Individual Superlative: Least Reassuring Santa Outcome – In the story’s ending narration, the talking snowman tells the children that Santa isn’t dead (which is normally good news) but that he’s out in space, gathering power to come back and destroy us all. You better watch out!

Want to Watch it? Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever is available on DVD.

Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy

titleDebuted in 1995

64 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Bumpy wants to get Santa’s bag to take all the presents for himself so he cons Squishington into helping him with the promise of his dream gift – a pair of feet. They meet others on the way and battle Santa’s snowman army, but Bumpy gets the bag and rushes back home, unknowingly dropping presents on the way. He gets home just in time to close the Christmas pageant with a song and then, having learned something about the joy of giving, he gives the last remaining gift to Squishington, who finally lives his dream to tap dance.

Fun Fact: The phrase ‘things that go bump in the night’ comes from a traditional Scottish prayer from the 19th century.

My thoughts: I mentioned to my awesome future son-in-law that I was dreading watching this one and he bravely offered to keep me company, stating that he (much like my son) has a strange enjoyment for really bad shows. Well, most bad shows. Once again, it seems that all the worst specials are compelled to go long and Bumpy’s 64 minutes feel like a couple of hours stranded in rush hour traffic with an overheating engine and a full volume radio you can’t adjust. Between the gross-out scenes, the ethnic stereotypes (the British hummingbird sounds like a Monty Python character and might as well have just said, “Blimey!” and “Crumpets!” over and over) and bizarre moments such as a ‘grassy knoll’ joke, I don’t think this special has any real concept of who its target audience is. The talented Jim Cummings gives Bumpy a voice that sounds like the love child of Bobcat Goldthwait and Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and it was grating on my nerves after 5 minutes. (It was hardcore chomping on them after another hour.) A subplot involving Molly Coddle (the comfort doll) having to show some confidence so she could direct the pageant was tiresome and pointless, seeming to serve as just a vehicle to get more re-worded songs into the thing and stretch it out longer. Can’t recommend this one for anyone.

pageant-performers

All the toys and the insect (who sings the song in this special’s Hanukkah nod) look miffed. They must have realized what special they’re in.

snow-soldiers

Frosty goes to Boot Camp?

sniffing-armpits

Nothing says holidays like oozy blobs smelling their own armpits.

worm

Is this worm channeling Steve Buscemi or John Waters?

Individual Superlative: Most Non-Original Original Songs – Every song in this is a traditional Christmas song with new words that often just summarize the plot and they’re all really repetitive. And they mostly play over re-played footage (sometimes multiple times – I seriously lost count of how many times they showed the same map) from this special and other episodes of the show.

Want to Watch it? Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation

titleDebuted in 2009

34 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Phineas and Ferb coordinate a massive ‘Thank you’ event for Santa Claus, decorating the entire city and building a special place for Santa to rest after his journey. But when Doofenshmirtz uses his recently received ‘Naughty-inator’ to turn the whole town naughty, all of Danville’s letters come back to them. Phineas and Ferb and all their friends manage to save the day, resulting in everyone getting their Christmas wish.

Fun Fact: This was the first episode of Phineas and Ferb not to be set in the summertime and the first to be aired on ABC Family.

My thoughts: Phineas and Ferb is one of those great shows that has massive cross-generational appeal and can be enjoyed by young kids, teenagers and even middle-age ladies like yours truly. The main contributing factor in this is the writing which is clever and funny without relying on cheap laughs or mean-spirited humor. While it helps to know the characters (and you certainly get more of the jokes), you can watch this special with no prior knowledge of the show and still thoroughly enjoy it. At the end of the special, we discover that Santa was the mastermind behind everything, including Doofenshmirtz’s ‘Naughty-inator’ and that just about everyone has gotten their Christmas wish as a result. There’s a really sweet moment when Buford does one nice thing (as part of his plan to be a brat all year and then redeem himself at the last moment) and we learn that his wish was just to be thought of as nice by his friends. In any other show, that may have played as mawkish, but it really works here, because we care about these characters and their relationships to each other. There are great songs in this episode that have become part of our Christmas playlists and hopefully will become holiday standards, just like ‘Silver and Gold’ and ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ once did. If you’ve never seen it, put this one on your must-watch list.

santa-sighting

This ‘Santa sighting’ picture proves that Santa is real. And sorry Bigfoot, you’re still not.

rudolph-nod

Everyone needs a Bumble to help with the star.  Even these guys.

partridge-on-a-perry

“And a partridge on a Perry…”

figgy-pudding

Why does he have the industrial size?

Individual Superlative: Best Foreshadowing – In ‘Gaming the System,’ an episode that aired in April of 2009, Major Monogram tells Perry that after monitoring Doofenshmirtz’s internet activity, he knows that he’s giving Perry a vase for Christmas. In this episode, he actually does and the look on Perry’s face is awesome.

Want to Watch it? Phineas & Ferb Christmas Vacation is available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon and you can usually find it on during the holiday season.

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland

Title

Debuted in 1976

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Frosty the Snowman comes back to life when the winter snow returns, but the children notice that he’s lonely, so they build him a snow wife and name her Crystal. Jack Frost is jealous of the way the children love Frosty and steals Frosty’s magic hat, but Crystal brings him back with a snow corsage and asks Jack Frost to be their Best Man. His attitude changes and he keeps winter going extra long so they can have lots of time to enjoy it.

Fun Fact: Other than Frosty himself, the only returning character from the original special is the traffic policeman.

My thoughts: I remember when this special originally aired and there was a lot of excitement about it. We had all been watching Frosty the Snowman every year since we were little and the idea of a new Frosty story was pretty awesome, especially since it had the look and feel of the original. The story is narrated by an animated Andy Griffith and, as a North Carolinian, there is a special place in my heart for Andy. After the original made a special point of saying that Frosty needed his magic hat to come to life, some may think it’s a bit of cheat for this special to bring snow people to life without it. But they choose to go with things that are individually special to the snow people involved (a bridal bouquet for Crystal and the bible for the snow parson who marries them) and that’s a sweet touch. It’s a simple special with a really nice message about inclusion and the importance of friends and loved ones.

Andy Dance

Andy looks like he’s kidnapping that boy.

Angsty Frosty smoking

Angsty Frosty wants to smoke in peace.

Crystal

Crystal is sweet and lovable with a literal mop of hair.

Snow Parson

Parson Brown is teaching the snow parson how to be sanctimonious.

Individual Superlative: Separated at Birth – In 1974, the broadcast rights to the Rankin-Bass catalog changed hands. Everything made before that date is now owned by CBS and everything after is owned by ABC, which is why (in case you’ve ever wondered) ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas shows this special but not the original.

Want to Watch it? Frosty’s Winter Wonderland is available on DVD and YouTube, plus it still shows up on TV every year.